Three-Episode Test: Ink's Spring 2015

High School Drama Slayer

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Welcome to the Three Episode Test, a new feature on Ani-Gamers, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why.


My Love Story!!
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Any story that starts off with a folktale tends to grab my attention, and the bluntness with which Ore Monogatari applies a parallel thereto is rather apropos for a show that, three episodes in, endearingly pounds viewers over the head with just how clueless one third of its imaginary love triangle is. I’m not being ironic. Takeo’s bittersweet obstinateness, his unwavering belief that he is incapable of being the object of anyone’s romantic affection (let alone the girl for whom he pines), bears comedic fruit though his over-exaggerated and ultimately off-point sacrifices that inspired my right hand to facepalm after enthusiastic facepalm. “But maybe this time…” is the initial draw, and the variations on that theme are afforded and kept fresh by the foil of Rinko’s own determination. Direction, animation production, and even character design are by some of the same people involved with Chihayafuru (you’ll notice Taichi Mashima starring as Makoto Sunakawa), which makes this a very pretty show to watch. That, the sweetness, and the execution of the humor are more than enough to keep me watching even if episode three didn't utterly dumbfound me as to where the plot is going next. (I’ve never read the source manga, but I’ve hear nothing but squee about it.)

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO (sequel)
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Although I remember having watched the first season of this show with the takeaway that it was better than most light novel-based fare for how it leveraged its main character’s antagonistic introversion, I can’t remember for the life of me how it ended. That made starting the second season a bit rough. There’s a tension between the three problem solving club members now due to Hachiman’s apathetic, results-oriented, do-it-alone means of resolving clients’ issues, and I think the series is going to start exploring the hurtful, inhuman side of his nature as opposed to how helpful his detachment can be as the voice of reason. Had this season immediately followed the first season, maybe the character twist and plot devices would feel more gripping? As of now, however, it just feels bland … especially compared to the particularly strong offerings of the previous winter season. There are some beautiful shots sprinkled throughout the first three episodes, particularly episode two, and SNAFU TOO seems adept so far at stringing along interpersonal tension to create drama, but I’m no longer vested in these characters and have too little time to remember why I should care. (Irony?)

Ninja Slayer
Streaming on FUNimation

TRIGGER

Ninjas! (violence)

Dizzying blend of Inferno Cop and other animation styles

Ninja slayer (more violence)

Hilarity

Twelve minute long episodes.

What's not to watch?

 

Plastic Memories
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Never before had my hopes been so thoroughly and efficiently squashed. SAI’s terminal service department pairs human workers with emotion-endowed androids (giftias) to retrieve civilian-purchased giftias whose operational life expectancy has just about run out. Examining the separation of the humans from their plastic fantasies seemed like an excellent idea for a series! I was hoping for episodics showing a broad spectrum of situations depicting humanity’s desperation, rage, and sadness as rooted in an inability to accept loss or its need for something society cannot fulfill. What I got was one decent field work episode with that as the focus and then two gradually worsening episodes catering to otaku who want to see the newest member of the SAI terminal service department hook up with lolibot-chan. Maybe, just maybe, once all the characters are settled, the show will go back to the field work which actually gave this show some promise and a shot at my attention, but I’m not holding my breath any longer.

Punch Line
Streaming on Crunchyroll

It’s a MAPPA production, so I was, at the very least, interested in what it would look/act like. Kinda feels like a subdued “FLCL homage to ’90s fanservice” farce, which puts it on a VERY thin line of becoming discombobulated. Its obviousness is subversive, at least that’s the precept under which I’m watching (and will continue to watch). Every episode, there’s always at least one thing (usually many things) at which to gawk/laugh — usually either a perfectly placed reference or out-of-left-field oddity. The show plays equally well off of animation and sub-genre history and, at least production-wise, looks gorgeous as a tribute/homage thereto with a modern plasticine tint. Punchline is, at least as of its third episode, an abstract in a museum. It’ll evoke several interpretations upon initial viewing, and I think that’s the sign of a worthwhile watch. With what I’ve seen so far, I doubt it’ll be a waste of time.

Re-Kan!
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Because I missed its billing as “a heartwarming horror comedy,” Re-Kan! completely surprised me. Expecting a straight-up horror show, I started laughing not only at dumb gags but the ways in which ghosts were being used to be the butt of jokes. Honest laughs uncontrollably spring from character interaction, situation, sight-gag, and reference just often enough to make this some very entertaining fluff, but Re-Kan! also unfortunately has a little too much time on its hands. The 24-minute episode length, at least during the first two episodes, meant a lot of checking the clock to see how close the episode was to ending despite the intermittent chortling. The show’s hyperactivity and volume definitely test my patience, but these aspects would serve a three-minute format well. In episode three, the show actually manages an appluadable tenderness that sustains a full episode without clock watching. This isn’t a show that needs to be seen now, so I’ll keep it in mind (on hold) to watch whenever I need a good laugh to put a stupid grin on my face.

Sound! Euphonium
Streaming on Crunchyroll

And this one time, at band camp….
If I wanted to relive high school concert band, I would look through the yearbook I threw away ages ago. Purely a case of the PV being WAY more appealing than the show it represents, Hibike! Euphonium is cute girls missing musical cues … constantly … on every level (personally, socially, audibly). This club working almost instantly toward a national competition is blah on every level for its lack of established character investment. In fact, the only character that keeps me coming back is third-year Asuka Tanaka, whose pranks reflect the appropriate degree of despair regarding trying to get someone to commit to playing a b(r)ass part in a concert band: bum, bum. bum (for the entire song). Oh yeah, I’m sold. As it plays off of an ensemble (no puns intended) cast, the show is, of course, more focused on characters than plot as of the third episode, but it’s also not making me give one damn about any of the characters (other than the ironically overenthusiastic one I mentioned previously). Cute. Vapid. Entirely forgettable in all but concept.

Yamada-Kun and the Seven Witches
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Trusted sources who read the original manga assured me that this should be a very fun watch. So far, they’ve been right. High school love septangle. Body switching. Delinquents. While all these carry warning flags upon mere mention, Yamada-kun… manages to wrap 97.5% mania around a 2.5% tender core to deliver a novel and humorous take on all its components. The body switching, caused by a kiss (accidental, volunteered, or forced), is reasonably if only a little too conveniently accepted by all involved, and some switches are skillfully used to advance plot and develop character. One would expect tons of fanservice, but that’s mainly reserved for character gags rather than audience nosebleed. This is a fun, light show with a good deal of doki doki for an anticipated romance between different classes of loners. But for all Yamada-kun is, I’m left with the nagging voice inside my head saying, “Where’s the anime adaptation of Inside Mari?”

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Three-Episode Test: Phillip's Spring 2015

Delicious Fanservice

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Welcome to the Three Episode Test, a new feature on Ani-Gamers, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why.


Food Wars!
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Soma Yukihira is a laid-back teenager who works as a sous chef to his father, Joichiro, in the family restaurant. While an excellent cook himself, Soma constantly feels the need to better himself in an attempt to best his old man. When Joichiro closes the place and packs Soma off to Totsuki Culinary Academy, Soma’s going to have pull out his A-game. In other words, this is Toriko set in the kitchen. This is MasterChef meets Fist of the North Star with high doses of comedy in between. Along the way, Soma manages to piss off every student in the academy, make friends, and still find time to make honey dipped squid for his dorm mates to try. These opening episodes strike while the iron’s hot and wallop you with joke after joke, all while we get the “Ah-ha! You thought me vanquished but try to beat my secret weapon of extra salt in this next dish!” school of dueling. This show’s in my “Ride the train till the bitter end” queue now. Hey, any show that starts with villainous estate agents, after sampling a dish, being forced to mentally orgasm amid jets of gravy while stroking their nether regions has got to be a keeper, right?

Punch Line
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Oh, boy. This was the first noitaminA show I've watched while it was actually streaming! (Thanks so much, Funimation, for buying up the rights and then geolocking your streams.) Punch Line starts out looking like it’s going to be a caper show and then slowly turns into the film The Ghost and Mrs. Muir if it was made by the people who brought you Animal House. Yuta Iridatsu is on a bus being hijacked by terrorists (maybe?). After Yuta saves the day and consequently gets turned into a spirit, someone else moves into and cavorts around with his body. With the help of a cat porn-watching spirit cat (yes, you read that right), Yuta must discover who is in his body and the connection with the girls who share his apartment building. Oh, I forgot to mention that Yuta gains superpowers whenever he sees a girl in their underwear. But if he sees a girl in her underwear again soon after, Yuta overloads, and Earth is destroyed by an asteroid. Luckily, he can rewind time to stop himself from witnessing said embarrassment. So bullet dodged there. With that conceit in place, we have a fanservice show in which the main character can’t receive any fanservice. So it’s wide open as to how this series can go. We could get some gold or we could get Sister Princess. I’ll hang on and see where it goes.

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Panels (and Panels and Panels and Panels...) at Spring Kraken Con 2015

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If it seems like I talk about Oakland, CA's Kraken Con way more often than most annual cons, it's because it's actually a twice-a-year event! After agreeing to an insane schedule of SEVEN panels (five of my own and two with Crunchyroll) at last fall's event, I decided to tone it down to just two new solo panels for Spring Kraken Con 2015 (April 25th and 26th at the Oakland Convention Center). Of course, this immediately grew thanks to some new Crunchyroll panels, bringing my grand total to... five. I do this to myself, don't I?

Anyway, the full list is below. Come by and check them out!

  • Crunchyroll Presents: Working in the Anime Industry — Saturday, 11am–12pm — ROOM 208
    • A fun, informal panel where CR employees discuss our experience working in the anime/manga industry. Complete with war stories and not-so-subtle venting about projects gone wrong!
  • Crunchyroll Industry PanelSaturday, 1–2pm — MAIN EVENTS
    • Basic industry panel stuff. Title announcements, Q&A, etc. I'll probably make fun of our Convention Manager Miles a lot.
  • Beyond Miyazaki: The Directors of Studio Ghibli - Saturday, 3–4pm — ROOM 208
    • Overview of the directors at Studio Ghibli NOT named "Hayao Miyazaki," since you all know him already. Based on my feature article in the latest Otaku USA special issue.
  • A Video History of Anime - Saturday, 6pm–7:30pm — ROOM 210/211
    • A mad experiment to see if I can cram the entire history of anime from the early 20th century to 2015 into an hour-and-a-half clipshow. This panel just might fall apart at the seams, but that's part of the fun!
  • Crunchyroll Presents: Spring Quarter Anime - Sunday, 1–2pm — ROOM 208
    • A basic overview of this season's shows. Miles knows them all way better than me, but I'll talk about the ones I've had time to watch.

And check out the rest of the panels and events on Kraken Con's online schedule. I'll be there most of the weekend, so if you see me, don't hesitate to flag me down and say hi.

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Con Report: Zenkaikon 2015

A two-day descent into mania, manliness, and madness.

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An explosion in attendees marked Zenkaikon’s third year in Lancaster, PA. With 4,800+ paid memberships (5,000+ warm bodies) accounted for, con attendance grew 20% over last year and evidently accounted for over 10% of the overall population of the host county! But people weren’t the only thing Zenkaikon brought to Lancaster. The con, true to its mission statement, also brought “knowledge and enjoyment of Japanese art, animation, and culture;” sci-fi; and more via … a “Victorian and Edwardian England” theme … represented by a top-hatted octopus and conservatively dressed elves? Quite. Quite.

Despite the numbers, navigation throughout the spacious Lancaster County Convention Center felt unencumbered … until Saturday night. Lines for later-evening programming congested the upper hallways like the plaque threatening so many attendees’ arteries. (There’s a deliciously evil farmer’s market right beside the con; don’t pretend you have no clue as to what I mean.) But that’s earnestly where my own inconveniences/grievances end. Even then, staff promptly tried to handle congestion using stern line management. There were simply too many people descending upon the same areas of interest for the building to handle.

Because of its inclusiveness, guests, and even venue layout, Zenkaikon felt a lot like a proto- ConnectiCon this year. That is to say Zenkaikon made the transition, at least in my mind, from local (albeit reallocated) con to a formidable, mid-sized destination con. Hell, even two of the guests thought themselves large enough presences to charge for autographs. Zenkaikon’s particular draw, however, is difficult to explain.

It’s a con of convergence, where geeks from all walks of fandom assemble and mingle, and the rural PA locale is as charming as it is comfortably isolating. The quaint town surrounding the con center offers a wealth of independent eateries and shoppes (not to mention the three craft beer bars within a literal stone’s throw of the con hotel). Yet this year’s programming proved a magnetic force that curtailed even the briefest outings.

Panels this year offered up an eclectic mix. Engaging and sensitive discussions as well as cultural musings and academic insights were complemented by such oddities as one How-To led by a “professional real life mermaid,” another by a burlesque troupe, a magical girl exercise regimen, as well as an ode to manliness as introduced by a line of topless nerds (and I use the term with great affection). While the program was not offered via Guidebook this year, Zenkaikon did make use of SCHED, which was just as useful (if not more so for those poor souls with Windows® Phones) and greatly facilitated planning. There was a lot of overlapping interests on the schedule, but everything worked out somehow, and the 15 minutes between panels was sufficient to get from anywhere to anywhere within the convention center.

During the one block of time in which I had nothing to do, I was snagged by someone outside the tabletop room and did something I almost never do: played a game with complete strangers. The person who grabbed my attention was from Vanishing City Games, and the prototype card game I joined in on was Puppy Dogs from Space. I’m a dog lover, so spending time looking at adorable renderings of puppies while absorbing, abiding by, and applying the multitudinous rules was an easy sell. I’d liken it to a puppy-themed Miles Bourne and have to say I had a blast playing. The host said the Kickstarter will be up shortly for it, so keep an eye out.

I always like popping in the video game room for a few games on the multi-arcade machines, the number of which was reduced to one this year. The other arcade machine was a dedicated P-47: Phantom Fighter unit. (Not complaining!) There were LAN parties a plenty on various generations of systems, dance-offs, as well as good ol’ one-on-one fighter grudge matches. But the real video game novelty this year was Artemis.

Artemis is a multiplayer, multi-station spaceship bridge simulator that manages to effortlessly evoke a LARP element via the nature of its gameplay. Players sat down at terminals arranged around the room in the style of a command bridge to man communications, navigation, weapons, the captain’s chair, etc. A large projection screen substituted for the “ship’s” main viewscreen, but all the individual terminals were just that: isolated by unique function. While watching one group play, the captain was walking around to each crew member and giving instructions, but each crew member, responding to their own in-game cues, had to call out to let the rest of the crew what was happening. It was great fun to watch and seemed like everyone was having a great time.

Uncle Yo fills Main EventsAside from comedian extraordinaire Uncle Yo (pictured right packing 'em in at Main Events), who has been with this con since the very beginning and is celebrated as a rock star every single year, guests included several voice actors noted for prominent dub roles in domestic productions as well as adaptations of foreign media. As I found out last year at ConnectiCon, attending panels featuring Richard Horvitz and Rikki Simmons is a must simply for their curt humor and inventive replies (which I’ll continue to imagine stem from a general sense of apathy). There were also internet celebs, namely Doug Walker and his brother Bob, as well as the incomparable Kuniko Kanawa, a favorite of the con, who presents demonstrations and workshops on aspects of Japanese culture. Breaking from her usual kimono demonstration, Kanawa led a workshop on making Edo Tsumami Kanzashi. Lastly, but certainly not least, the Ricecookers, a Japanese rock band that has its origin in Boston and currently resides in Brooklyn. Thank you, Zenkaikon, for your commitment to keeping live music as part of the con experience.

I’m ever so glad I didn’t skip Zenkaikon this year due to such silliness as economic constraints. 2015 felt like a transformative year for the con. As usual, there were many wonderful panels as well as some inspired cosplay, but the energy level was through the roof and everything lined up in a right-time-right-place kind of way. Having lost much sleep by not wanting to miss out of what was being offered (and one night where I could not remember where I parked to save my life), I don't even know how I got home after the last panel early Sunday morning (much less how I managed to get up 2 hours later to go to a completely different con in a neighboring state), but Zenkaikon 2015 was certainly worth the lack of sleep. A true ton of fun from start to finish.

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Con Report: CPAC 2015

A much needed return to hype.

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Having attended this convention since its debut in 2008, I feel the following gush completely justified: “Awwww, our little con is growing up!” Maybe it was the effect of the sleep deprivation from attending TWO conventions in one weekend, but this year’s Castle Point Anime Convention (CPAC) felt like a legitimate, bustling con, as opposed to an incidental, laid-back college con, from the second I set foot onto Stevens Institute of Technology’s Hoboken, NJ campus. CPAC’s yet to break from its single-day schedule, but the con’s certainly doing its darnedest with the time and space it has. And things are getting crowded!

Exceeding the efforts of prior years, coordination was tight and seamless. Badge pickup (press and panelist) was simple and quick, buildings were plainly marked, and staff was all over to help direct traffic and answer questions. Even before the con started, CPAC upped its game for 2015. The schedule was available in advance and on the day of the con to mobile users via Guidebook as well as online via SCHED. And while it may seem like something to be taken for granted, I want to personally thank whoever is responsible for getting speakers into the panel rooms. It was a small contribution that made a huge difference in convenience and presentation quality … when the panelists could figure out how to use them. Regarding exceptions to the latter, the head of panels already responded to concerns by promising a tech cheat sheet next year. Talk about quick action! (Also maybe have a staff member check in with each panelist as they’re setting up to make sure they’re ready to go.)

pic via Justin StromanSpeaking of panels, interesting panels overlapped such that I couldn’t possibly attend them all. This was a marked shift from recent years; a smattering of industry, talent, fan squee, and academic panels presented something for every fan. Of this, I was glad, and much praise is due Ben Knutson. It was his first year as head of panels, and I think he did an excellent job. CPAC was catering to all and by doing so hopefully encouraged even more mouths to spread the word and increase attendance again next year. However, I imagine CPAC will soon have to make the jump to an off-campus venue or annex more classroom space given that even early-morning panels on relatively obscure topics were filled to standing room only admission .

The combined Dealer’s Room/Artist's Alley was more fleshed out than in previous years. It felt full, both of people roaming from booth to booth and of booths themselves. All the basics were represented, with a hidden treasure here and there (be it craft or collectible), but the most important and recognizable thing was the atmosphere of a legitimate selling space and all the excitement that comes from such a market. Unfortunately, someone’s always gotta ruin the party. In late evening, all exiting traffic was halted. Bags were being searched. It’s pretty obvious what happened, and it would have made for a sad ending note to the con, indeed, had it not been for something ridiculously felicitous.

After being searched and released from the dealer’s room, it was time to go home. I’d been kept so busy by panels that I never made it to the annual cosplay chess or the maid café let alone the respective performance and concert by Rainbow Bubble Girls and The Asterplace. Missing the latter was an absolute shame, because there was an honest-to-goodness LIVE BAND at CPAC for the first time in years! (If you’ve read any other con report by me, you know I hold live music to be essential to a proper party.) As if in sympathy, however, the con ended on the highest note imaginable when a five-piece band featuring a lead singer in a panda costume starting playing me and my cohorts out with Yui’s “again” from the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood OP (or, you know, her album Green Garden Pop).

Near delirium for all my lack of sleep, I managed to completely mess up everything I had planned, save my panel (which went great, thanks for asking). Missing the concert was unfortunate, but the after-the-fact realization that I’d missed the chance to talk to guest Jamie Marchi about the FUNi simul-dubbing/-scripting process and other aspects of her involvement in the industry was heartbreaking. Admittedly, I would’ve also been one of the first to ask for her best “gow gow.” She was a catch of a guest for CPAC, and I hope her caliber got the attention it deserves. Other industry guests included voice actors Mike Pollock and Monica Rial.

Aside from a forthcoming, short panel report, that’s about it from me on this year’s CPAC. It’s growing in attendance and competency. I can only hope it doesn’t share a weekend with Zenkaikon again next year; it would be great to be at least semi-cognizant as to take advantage of all the con has to offer. Spread the word, and make plans to attend next year. I hope to see you there at the concert, in a panel, or scouring the dealer’s room.

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